KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It was late afternoon on March 6, 2017 when a line of thunderstorms developed north and west of Kansas City. 41 Action News meteorologist Gerard Jebaily went out in our new storm chase vehicle, Storm Tracker. A tornado watch went into effect, and our weather team was ready to prepare all of our viewing area for this potential risk.
The thunderstorms grew stronger as they moved into the western side of the Kansas City metro area, and De Soto, Kansas was one of the first places to be hit by very large hail, the size of baseballs or even a few hailstones were larger, if you can call those huge pieces of ice "hailstones."
Whenever hail gets that large the potential for tornadoes increase.
A second supercell thunderstorm formed over Johnson County, Kansas and what appeared to be a tornado hit the Johnson County Executive Airport. It was later ruled to be straight line winds. That same cell produced small tornadoes as it tracked over Leawood, Kansas crossing the border and touching down in Lee's Summit. It then went back up before becoming a larger tornado near Oak Grove where around 500 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Joyce Hale lived in Oak Grove. She was watching 41 Action News when she heard us say, "If you live in Oak Grove you should take cover now." Joyce and her roommate took cover and one minute later the tornado destroyed her home. Her home may be gone, but Joyce, her roommate and her cat lived through the disaster in Oak Grove.
There were 11 tornadoes reported, widespread wind and hail damage and it was not even spring yet. Hopefully that was the worst this season has to offer. Just a few days later it snowed!
Why do we see tornadoes in our area?
Kansas City is located on the edge of tornado alley.
There are more tornadoes in the United States than anywhere else in the world. In fact, 75 percent of the world’s tornadoes happen here at home.
Why is this the case? It is because of two geographic boundaries. The first is the Gulf of Mexico, which provides the fuel - the warm, moist air that is necessary for severe thunderstorm development.
The second boundary is the Rocky Mountain chain. The large north south mountain chain allows dry air to move out over the plains and interact with the warm and moist Gulf of Mexico air.
The jet stream will flow overhead and when a storm system is strong enough an explosion of powerful thunderstorms is the result.